A friend recently asked me when Greenwich became a town. I thought that this would be a rather simple question to research, but it turned out to be somewhat complicated! The short answer is that The General Court established Greenwich as an independent township on May 11,1665 after being petitioned by Greenwich residents.
"That wasn't so hard", you say. The problem lies in the fact that some of the various "villages" which make up Greenwich today - Old Greenwich, Riverside, Cos Cob, Greenwich, Byram, Glenville, Stanwich - were not entirely established at the time the town was incorporated. Furthermore, it took years to straighten out boundary disputes with Stamford and New York. To fully understand how and why "Greenwich" became one town, it's necessary to delve into its history a bit.
The story begins when Captain Daniel Patrick and Robert Feak bartered with the American-Natives (Native-Americans) to purchase land in what we now call Old Greenwich. Over time it's been called "Old Town", "Sound Beach" and even "Greenwich". Elizabeth Feak also managed to buy Monkawego (Greenwich Point) as part of the deal. Patrick and Feak had left the Massachusetts Bay Colony because of the strict, Puritanical lifestyle. Many followed. People from Stamford also migrated to Old Greenwich, and joined in establishing an agrarian (farming) community.
As with many New England towns, villages grew up along coastal tidal basins and rivers. Settlers wanted to take advantage of proximity to the water for transportation. Later, the waterways would play an important role in hydroelectric power generation. In the case of North Mianus and Cos Cob, boats were used to transport fruit and vegetables as well as lumber and shellfish to markets in New York and along the Long Island Sound Shore. Small business centers beagn to "pop up" along the Mianus River, for example. Early on, the Upper Landing in North Mianus was the center of business in Greenwich due to its proximity to "Old King's Highway" (part of Palmer Hill Road). Then the Lower Landing at Cos Cob became predominant.
About this time, the Dutch were well-established in New York and claimed all the land as far east as the Connecticut River as their own. Residents complained, and in 1650 it was agreed that Greenwich would fall under the New Haven Colony. The Court noted in 1656 that Greenwich was "disorderly, riotous, gave liquor to the American-Natives, harbored escaped servants and were unlawfully married". Greenwich residents were expected to attend religious meetings in Stamford as a means of redemption! Although Greenwich was anxious to be independent, the General Court, located in New Haven at that time, considered it part of Stamford! Eventually, the General Court mellowed, and after being petitioned by residents, on May 11, 1665, the General Court now located in Hartford established Greenwich as an independent township.
Now, some villages were just developing, and some were at different stages in their growth. In 1669, the Town Meeting decided to establish a settlement in "Horseneck". This was a section of central Greenwich. In 1686, once again land was purchased from the Native-Americans. Lots were laid out, and "27 Proprietors" purchased the property. It's interesting to note that the central business district was first located at the end of Mechanic Street (or Sherwood Place) because a bicycle factory was opened there. Eventually, businesses shifted down to Greenwich Avenue, and goods were shipped by boat from the end of Steamboat Road. It wasn't too long before central Greenwich permanently became the business center.
Meanwhile, Byram, or East Port Chester, was greatly influenced by Port Chester. It eventually became the overflow community for manufacturing and immigrants Glenville had a similar history. Immigrants from Poland and Italy came to Greenwich to work for the wealthy, who needed masons, landscapers and domestic help. Eventually, they worked in mills and factories along the Byram River. The American Felt Mill in Glenville was one example. Stanwich became an important community since it was the home to Miss Purdy's School for young women. A stagecoach line was even established to take young girls from the train in Greenwich to Stanwich. Stanwich even had its own inn! It's safe to say that these villages developed independently over time. It's also interesting to note that each village has its own personality and history. Although Greenwich was incorporated as a town early on, it's made up of diverse communities which continue to grow and change. This contributes to Greenwich's rich, diverse culture, which seems to be unique in each community or village.
Another factor, which I failed to mention earlier, is that the incorporation of Greenwich came out of a desire to consolidate finances as well as public works. It made more sense to centralize the affairs of the several villages within its boundaries. Besides, depending on the community, individual neighborhoods lacked the resources to handle their affairs. The more efficient way was to have one central government raise revenue and take care of business for the entire town.This just goes to show you that being a "town" involves more than just having a government document. Every facet of community life has to be considered.